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Amid a summer movie season drenched in high-tech hoo-ha, the most memorable special effect may be a pimple due north of Bill Murray's nose. A big, glowering full moon, it pulsates ominously, threatening to burst. And since those "There's Something About Mary" directors are moving the live action, you can bet your bottom dollar it will.
The oily eruption on Murray's face, however, can't hold a candle to the hubbub behind the scenes. Just below the skin, the music and microbes are pounding away in a very happening disco called the Zit. Couch-potato germs that can't get past the gate sit at home watching the news, where a perky unicellular anchorwoman alerts viewers to the pandemonium in the stomach incited by the recent arrival of animal crackers.
You have entered the dyspeptic universe of "Osmosis Jones," a gleefully inventive journey into one man's gastrointestinal system. One of the summer's more oddball confections, "Osmosis Jones" is a lopsided hybrid of broad live-action comedy directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, and buoyant biological animation co-directed by Piet Kroon (the marvelous "Iron Giant") and Disney and DreamWorks veteran Tom Sito. Murray plays Frank, quintessential Farrelly slob and widowed father to Shane (Elena Franklin), a conscientious schoolgirl who despairs of her father's addiction to junk food.
Despite Shane's pleading, Frank ingests a soiled hard-boiled egg during his rounds as a zoo maintenance worker and contracts a dangerous virus. Frank's flatulent eating misadventures alternate with the life roiling inside his body, where a microscopic animated planet is struggling to cope. The war between Frank's bad impulses and his body's healing mechanisms is depicted as a campaign between conservative incumbent microbe Mayor Phlegmming (William Shatner) and progressive candidate Tom Colonic (Ron Howard), who promises to rehabilitate Frank's intestinal tract.
While Tom and the mayor stump, the virus (Laurence Fishburne) is plotting strategies to defeat Frank. Enter white blood cell Osmosis Jones (Chris Rock), a renegade member of the lymph-node immunity police force. Osmosis enlists the aid of Drix (David Hyde Pierce), an over-the-counter cherry cold tablet who charges into the fray with superhero confidence, unaware of the temporary limits of his strength. Rock's hip-hop dynamism and Pierce's square-peg stoicism make for a comic glove-fit.
In its animated sequences, "Osmosis Jones" nails the sort of sassy humor that eluded last year's "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle." Dumb-funny puns (Drix holds a Phi Beta Capsule degree from the University of Chicago) bounce against dippy movie parodies (the "Titanic" reference eclipses anything in both "Scary Movies"), culminating in a Worst Nightmare Festival in Frank's live-dream multiplex that features "Honey, I Dropped My Pants."
At its best, "Osmosis Jones" is a cagey refresher course in physiology. But the cartoon doings are hobbled by standard-issue, gross-out humor in the live-action sequences. Murray's Frank is such a boor he almost doesn't seem worth such a display of anatomical loyalty, which I suppose is part and parcel of the Farrellys' antihero joke. And Chris Elliott repeatedly brings the movie to a halt with his aimless appearances as Frank's yahoo drinking buddy, Bob. Still, warts and all, "Osmosis Jones" is the year's ultimate bodily functions comedy.
MPAA rating: PG, for bodily humor. Times guidelines: doesn't shy away from grossness, neither in its live action nor animation.
Chris Rock: Osmosis
Laurence Fishburne: Thrax
Bill Murray: Frank
David Hyde Pierce: Drix
Brandy Norwood: Leah
William Shatner: The Mayor
Molly Shannon: Mrs. Boyd
Chris Elliott: Bob
Warner Bros. Pictures presents a Conundrum Entertainment production, released by Warner Bros. Directors Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly. Animation directors Piet Kroon, Tom Sito. Producers Bradley Thomas, Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Zak Penn, Dennis Edwards. Screenplay by Marc Hyman. Cinematographer Mark Irwin. Music Randy Edelman. Production designer Sidney Jackson Bartholomew Jr. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
In general release.